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When babies go rogue: Birth dispatches from McDonald’s and more

Some children decide they would rather be born in an Accord than at the hospital.

(Illustration by Twila Waddy/The Washington Post/iStock)
17 min

Childbirth is full of unknowns, which is perhaps why expecting parents work so hard to have a plan. Which hospital should we go to? Should we opt for a birthing center, or maybe a home birth? Epidural or no? Do we want a doula? What interventions are we comfortable with?

But babies have little regard for adult “plans,” a trend that some researchers note persists throughout childhood. Some babies also demonstrate a poor sense of geography, judging by their decision to appear in locations not known for accommodating a laboring mother — places like “airplanes” and “the back of the Camry” and “the shoulder of the interstate.”

We asked Post readers to share their stories of birthing their geographically challenged babies, and they delivered. Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Born in a pair of overalls

Thirty years ago, I was a lieutenant colonel in the Army stationed in the D.C. area and pregnant. Late one evening, I began having contractions, and my husband took me to Bethesda Naval Hospital. They had no room, so we were sent to Walter Reed. There the doctor told me I was in false labor and sent us home.

A few hours later, I was in real pain and told my husband I didn’t think the baby was waiting. We left home in time for the morning Beltway commute. As I was strapped into the passenger seat of our T-Bird, I was overcome with an urge to push. My husband yelled at me not to push, and I’m thinking, “He doesn’t know what the hell I’m experiencing.” I pushed once, and I could feel the baby slip out into the leg of the overalls I was wearing. I told my husband the baby was born. He replied, “That’s not what that is, that’s something else.” Huh? I said, “Pull over!”

He pulled over. After I got my seat belt and overalls off, there was the baby lying on my leg, blue and not breathing, with the cord around his neck. I slipped the cord off, held him by the ankles and smacked him like I’d seen in a “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” episode just the night before, and he started to cry. We wrapped him up in a poncho liner that was in the back sea and took off to Bethesda Naval.

When the corpsman raced out of the ER to get me, I was only wearing a t-shirt and sandals with the baby still connected. The corpsman said, “Don’t worry there is hardly anyone in the ER.” I remember thinking, “The entire 3rd Infantry could be in there and I wouldn’t care.” As soon as they took the baby and started blowing air at him, he started to pink up. I just lost it, relieved.

Grady turns 30 this year. He is a propulsion engineer developing space habitats. An unexpected entry into an interesting life.

— Marianne Hook, Walnut Creek, Calif.

Born in a Honda Accord

I had my second (of five!) children in the front seat of my new Honda Accord. I delivered her by myself. My 2½-year-old daughter Lucy was in the back seat in her toddler car seat, patting my shoulder repeating, “It’s okay Mama, it’s okay.” I had gone into labor less than 3 hours earlier. I was so busy practicing my focused breathing that I didn’t realize I was so close to delivering. My husband drove us the 4½ minutes to the hospital, parked us at the curb, and ran in for help. By the time he returned with the labor nurse, I was holding our new daughter Leah, wrapped in Lucy’s blankie.

— Joan Negash, Vienna, Va.

Born in a McDonald’s

My contractions started at about 3:40 in the morning, but I just kept pushing it off, like, “No, it’s okay, they’re not close enough.” And my daughter’s dad was like, “You know, if we wait too long, you’ll end up having her where you don’t want to have her.”

I eventually went back to sleep, and probably around 7 or 8 a.m., the contractions started speeding up. As we were driving to the hospital, my daughter’s dad had a power steering issue, so we had to stop, go to the gas station, and get the car together. We got driving and I was like, “I gotta pee, and it can’t wait. I really, really gotta go.” He pulled into a parking lot with a McDonald’s, and I ran to the bathroom. Before I even got a chance to get off the toilet, my water completely broke.

I was yelling for people to come in to help, but I don’t think anybody heard me because I was screaming for five minutes. Eventually the McDonald’s employees met my daughter’s father at the door, and they came in, asking what’s wrong. I said, “My water broke. I need to go to the hospital.” And the lady said, “You’re not going to the hospital. You’re about to have the baby here.”

That put me into a panic, because obviously I didn’t want to have my baby in the bathroom of a fast-food restaurant. But there was nothing we could do. My daughter’s dad took his hoodie off, laid it on the floor and got ready to catch. One employee called 911, and I had two other ladies holding my hands. Three pushes later, she was born.

Everybody calls her Nugget. I call her all different kinds of nicknames, but she’s definitely a Nugget. That’s the name McDonald’s gave her. They threw her a baby shower and everything.

— A’landria Worthy, Fulton County, Ga., as told to Sophia Solano

Born in a powder room

It all started that morning when the nurse practitioner stripped my membranes. I was only a week out from my due date, in immense pain, and just DONE. The contractions began later that afternoon and were inconsistent and didn’t feel any different than the Braxton Hicks [contractions] I’d been having for weeks, so I didn’t think much about it.

At 4 p.m., my mom and I were leaving the park with my other two kids when I told her to drop me off at home instead because I wasn’t feeling well. Just moments after arriving home, I had the “bloody show,” so I called my husband to leave work to come take me to the hospital. Given that my last two births took a while, I thought I still had plenty of time. It was about 4:30 p.m. when my water broke. I was in quite a bit of discomfort by then but still thinking I had time. I went around the house and collected a few last minute items to add to my hospital bag.

Right as I bent down to pack these items in my bag, I felt the urge to PUSH. Alone and feeling absolutely terrified, I knew I was going to be having this baby at home. Next thing I knew, I was sitting on the toilet, reaching down and touching the top of my baby’s head. I immediately dropped to my knees and let out a bloodcurdling scream then called my husband to get home NOW before calling 911. (He was well on his way but began driving MUCH faster after that.) I could not hear the operator well due to my screams and the echo from our teeny-tiny powder bathroom, so I was pretty much on my own while trying, and failing, to keep my baby in. I finally heard our garage open and my husband run inside. He quickly flipped me onto my back, pulled the baby out, put him on my chest, and covered us up with my oldest son’s used bath towel. Time of delivery was 4:45 p.m.

Luckily the EMTs showed up just moments later, helped my husband cut the cord, and transferred me and baby safely to the hospital. Even luckier, baby and I were perfectly fine and released just 24 hours later. Also, I made my husband call at 9 a.m. the next morning to schedule a vasectomy.

— Courtney Faddis, Las Vegas

Born outside a parking garage

It was a cold January night. We were walking across the street from the parking garage to the hospital when my water broke. My daughter was out in two pushes. She became known on the maternity ward as the parking garage baby, although technically she was born in the middle of the road. Luckily it was late at night and no cars were coming by. It was also well below freezing, so everything froze in place exactly as it was and remained that way for several days afterward. When people asked where I had given birth, all we had to do was point at the frozen puddle of afterbirth that was in plain sight right in front of the Washington Hospital Center. Now whenever we go past that street right off Michigan Avenue NW, I point out the window and tell my daughter, that’s where you were born!

— Kendra Moesle, Cheverly, Md.

Born on a city sidewalk

My son was born on L St SE in Washington, D.C. I knew I was in labor, but it was a week before my due date and I was waiting for some of the signs I had experienced the first time around. I was also preoccupied with caring for my now 22-month old. I had some regular contractions during the night but they had subsided by morning, so my husband went to work, and my daughter and I did our regular Friday routine.

The contractions started again and continued through story time and music class, but I was able to relax and quietly breathe through them. It wasn’t until our walk home that I realized I was having to pause and lean on the stroller to get through the contractions. I called my husband and we decided that he should come home but pick up a rental car on the way. (We didn’t have one.) I then called our doula. She said she could be at my house in an hour.

The next hour or so was a blur of trying to get a hospital bag ready while my daughter napped. My husband and the doula arrived. The contractions were increasingly intense — it was like I was channeling a force coming down from above. “I can’t not push,” I told the doula. So less than five minutes after she arrived, the doula made the call that it was time to head to the hospital.

I had another contraction on the staircase leading down to the door. I had to waddle down the sidewalk because the weight of the baby was now very low. We got to the rental car, and as my husband and the doula were adjusting seats and trying to decide if I should ride in the back or front, the tremendous pressure shifted.

“Baby’s coming now!” I said. “Ok,” replied our ever-calm doula, “I’m going to have to take your pants off.” And she did. I was standing right next to the car with the passenger door open, arms and shoulders resting on the top of the car. I had another contraction where I couldn’t not push and felt the baby’s head come out.

“Thank God, this is over and I don’t have to find a way to ride in this car,” I thought. And then I thought, “Someone should call 911.” I looked at my arms and realized I had my cellphone in my hand. I dialed. “Hi, I just had a baby on the sidewalk and need an ambulance,” I said.

Except that wasn’t quite true — only the baby’s head was out. My husband and the doula knelt next to me and discussed what to do next. “Should it be purple?” “Purple’s a great color. You caught your first child as she came out, do you remember how?” “Yes.” “Great. Don’t drop the baby.” One final contraction and the baby was out. Caught. “It’s a boy.”

They had me sit in the car and maneuvered the baby and cord to put him on my chest — a healthy, alert boy. We turned up the heat, and he started nursing. My husband got in the driver’s side, we looked at each other, and shared a long laugh at the absurdity of what had just happened. The ambulance arrived, and we went to the hospital just to make sure everything was okay. It was.

— Heather Whitlow, Washington, D.C.

Born on the San Diego freeway

My son was born in the back seat of our station wagon on the shoulder of the northbound San Diego freeway, just past the Venice Boulevard exit. We had arranged for one of my older son’s preschool teachers to babysit him until my parents, who lived two hours away, could come. When I went into labor, we couldn’t reach the teacher (this was before cellphones). My parents were on the way, but we had to go to the hospital, so we left the older son with some neighbors whom we didn’t know that well.

The delays meant that we had waited too long. We had just moved to Redondo Beach from West L.A. but were still planning to deliver at UCLA. I laid down in the back seat of the car and my husband got on the freeway. I continued having contractions in the back seat, but then felt the baby’s head was emerging. My husband was driving as fast as he could in the far left lane during the last of rush hour in a rare L.A. thunderstorm. It took a little while to get across all the lanes of traffic and get to the shoulder. By the time he was able to pull over and get in the back seat with me, the baby was all the way out and lying on the back seat. He wrapped him up in a towel.

We thought about calling for help from one of those motorist aid call boxes from the side of the freeway, but decided that we were most of the way to UCLA hospital so the fastest way was just to drive there by ourselves. My husband pulled back onto the freeway and drove to the emergency entrance. He ran in, and a bunch of medical personnel ran out to our car. They clamped the umbilical cord, took the baby in, and then delivered the placenta in the car. My son’s birth certificate reads that he was born in the hospital parking structure because babies born outside the hospital causes bureaucratic issues.

— Eve Ahlers, Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Born in a car in the hospital parking lot

I really wanted to have a home birth with my first child at age 35. But it seemed irresponsible at my age, so I resigned myself to a hospital birth, though I joked that the place I really wanted to have my child was in my car in the hospital parking lot — that way medical care would be handy, but I wouldn’t have to deal with them before hand.

It turns out that’s exactly what I got. Woke from sleep by my water breaking, no pain till three hours before his birth, half an hour drive to the hospital, one push in the back seat! The car later junked in a field near my house, so I could show my son his birthplace for years.

— Carolyn Kurtz, Valley Center, Calif.

Born on the bathroom floor

My daughter’s due time was right around Thanksgiving 2014. As that period came and went, I resisted an induction because I really wanted my baby and body to determine the start of labor. Finally, it did start! I proclaimed this as I went to my OBGYN for a scheduled appointment. No one took me seriously, though. My favorite midwife noted that I was 4 cm dilated. Despite knowing from the delivery of my first child that I dilate quickly, she stripped my membranes and sent me home where I took a nap, hoping to shore up strength for whatever awaited in the next day or two.

When I woke up, I just knew that it was time to go to the hospital. My plan was to make a quick bathroom stop first. Once I got to the bathroom my labor started accelerating to the point that even going to the car seemed improbable. Barely able to talk, I called my doula. My mom called 911. And, then when I stood up to wash my hands a force ripped through my body so hard and fast that it knocked the wind out of me.

In my preparation for childbirth, I had come across a handout stating what to do in case of precipitous labor, and either because of that or out of plain instinct, I got on the ground. I remember so many details of this birth so well, yet I have no recollection of the seconds between dropping to the ground and then noticing my baby, who apparently saved me the effort of pushing her out. Initially, I was totally paralyzed before I embraced my baby on the floor. She started to cry and then nurse, to my immense relief.

Then, in the dark of that early December evening, we were wheeled out of our apartment complex, baby nursing, and loaded into the ambulance, which delivered us to the hospital. It seemed theatrical, and yet there I was in real life being wheeled past the nurses’ station on the labor and delivery floor, where I got more than one surprised look.

My daughter and I were exceptionally fortunate to have made it through such a fast delivery unscathed. A strong advocate of natural childbirth, I had never imagined a totally unassisted birth. While it’s a good story now, it will always haunt me a bit. I’ve wondered whether my providers, who seemed very distracted the morning I was there, should have sent me right to the hospital given my history of fast labor. All I got from them (even after I addressed the situation in a longish letter) was radio silence. All that is water under the bridge now, and my still very feisty 8-year-old girl has a birth story for the record books!

— Stephanie Hitztaler, Syracuse